Films shape us and inspire us 🎬
When we watch a film and we feel like we identify with or aspire to be like a character we usually take some of their personality, style or interests and implement them into our own life. Whilst films give us a sense of escapism, they also help us to realise and shape our identity. Characters are created to make us think, “Hey, I want be more like her” or “I definitely don’t want to be like her at all” either way we’ll realise what we do or don’t want to be like. Which is useful!
In more recent times there has finally been an increase in the creation of wonderful women characters. These women tell stories of courage, compassion, love, loss, strength, vulnerability and determination. They serve a meaningful purpose, they’re not simply created to entertain us, they’re created to educate and inspire us.
The following list looks at Ditch the Label’s favourite female film characters who remind us how diverse and fantastic all women are. This list celebrates the film industry which has created such strong, sensitive, passionate, beautiful and real women on and off the screen.
If you’ve seen either one, all or none of these films, it doesn’t matter (but you should make it your mission to watch them all). Once you’ve finished reading this list you’ll be proud to be a woman!
In no particular order…
50 inspiring female film characters and why we chose them…
1. Mara Wilson as Matilda (1996)
Because she’s adopted into a really mean family who are different to her and who try and stop her from being herself. Instead of conforming to their way of life she does what she wants. Reading is what she loves and its her way of escaping reality. She’s an independent and kind little girl and she knows the difference between right and wrong. We should all try and be a bit more like Matilda.
2. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games trilogy
Because she knows that protecting her family is the most important thing. She puts herself up for what is essentially death, instead of letting her little sister having to suffer. Katniss fights hard, she’s determined and passionate. She leads the revolution and demonstrates to us all that when something isn’t right, we should not just sit there and watch – we should get up and act.
3. Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1991) (and of course Emma Watson in the live-action version released in 2017)
Because she knows that she’s worth way more than marrying a sexist and chauvinistic villain. She doesn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen cooking or cleaning, no thank you! She loves to educate herself and explore. She also rescues her father and takes his place as a prisoner in the Beast’s palace! The fact that Belle falls in love with her captor is besides the point – she’s still admirable!
4. Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (2001)
Because being a sorority queen who is feminine, blonde and pink obsessed doesn’t exclude you from anything. In this case Elle Woods follows her ex-boyfriend to Law school and says a big ‘stuff you’. Showing everyone there is more to her than her appearance. And to top it off she wins a really high profile legal battle, so yeah she’s kind of awesome.
5. All 3 leading ladies in Hidden Figures (2016)
Because they are a group of highly intelligent African-American female mathematicians who play a huge role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. They dream bigger than anyone who has dreamed before and achieve what no-one has yet achieved. Go girls!
6. Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series
Because she’s feisty and hardworking. And the symbolism of how she is bullied because she is a muggle represents how in our society if you’re different it can mean you are treated unfairly. Which is totally wrong. Hermione stands up for herself and ensures she is always the best version of herself. Never letting the bullies win.
7. Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones in the Bridget Jones series
Because she’s done all the embarrassing things we’ve all dreaded! She’s awkward, hilarious, cringeworthy and just fabulously human! She always tries her best but life just always gets in the way. But you know what’s great about her? She always picks herself up and gets on with things. She has fun and doesn’t take life or herself too seriously. We all need to be a bit more like Bridget!
8. Emilia Clarke as Louisa Clark in Me Before You (2016)
Because she cares for someone who’s disabled and depressed. She tries to improve his life and shows us how being selfless is rewarding. She also shows that love can come in all shapes and sizes regardless of your circumstances. She also shows us that in life when you love someone you may need to support what they want, even if it means it will upset you.
9. Ruby Barnhill as Sophie in The BFG (2016)
Because she’s a strong-willed foster child who doesn’t follow the rules, if she wants to stay up late and read then she will! She also meets a very large strange man and once she’s over the initial horror she develops a friendship which is really cute and pulls at the heart strings. And together they save the children of London! So she’s kind of a hero.
10. Susan Sarandon as Louise in Thelma and Louise (1991)
Because she does something she feels she must do, albeit it’s extremely crazy. But it’s because she loves her best friend and can’t let evil things happen without consequences. Their friendship is admirable and they’re just two gorgeous gals with fantastic style too. The epic ending is also the stuff of best friend dreams (or perhaps nightmares) either way it’s a classic girl power film!
11. Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff in Juno (2007)
Because she falls pregnant and just deals with it. She’s not ready for motherhood but she’s ready to be strong for the little baby growing inside her. And seeing her be so strong in order to help others is inspiring. She could take various other routes, some easier, some harder, but she chooses the one she thinks is best for her. And if you live your life by that rule, you’ll be ok.
12. Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Because she’s just a fabulous kooky character and we can all relate to her in so many different ways. Whether you love sleeping with your eye mask on, you’re a socialite or you’re a cat lover, you’ll find a common ground with Holly Golightly and just admire her independence, style and sophistication.
13. Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean series
Because she defies her fathers expectations and dons the pirate outfit pretty fantastically oh and she also helps fight off some pretty questionable characters. She doesn’t take c**p from anyone and she manages to put Captain Jack Sparrow in his place. Kudos to you Elizabeth!
14. Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Because she is sensitive and kind to her new friends and together they embark on an epic adventure, which will help her, but also help her new friends. This shows us how when we meet new people we don’t know what journey they might be on but we should all help each other get to the destination, not hold each other back.
15. Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins (1964)
Because she is fabulously independent and feisty and also warm and kind. The perfect mix. Plus, she models good behaviour to the children and teaches them life lessons and that’s something we all need to continue to do so we ensure we raise wonderful, kind, caring and happy children.
16. Embeth Davidtz as Miss Honey in Matilda (1996)
Because she’s the best teacher ever to exist in the whole entire world. She cares about all her school children and especially the vulnerable, like Matilda. She saves Matilda from the wretched Wormwood family and takes her under her loving wing and treats her as if she’s her own child. What a beaut! Let’s all be more like Miss Honey and look out for the vulnerable in society.
17. Emma Stone as Skeeter Phelan in The Help (2011)
Because she wants the voices of the African American maids’ to be heard loud and clear! She sees the hardships they suffer on a regular basis and she doesn’t believe this should go unnoticed. Standing up for and helping those in terrible situations is what we should all try and do more often.
18. Jennifer Hudson as Effie White in Dreamgirls (2006)
Because she goes through many hardships but doesn’t let it ruin her. She picks herself back up again and continues to follow her dreams. Let’s all remember that what doesn’t break you makes you stronger!
19. Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in Finding Dory (2016)
Because despite her memory loss, she doesn’t let that stop her from finding the one thing she wants – her family. She’s sweet yet sassy all at the same time and without meaning to be. She isn’t afraid of going to the far lengths in order to meet her dreams.
20. Anika Noni Rose as Tiana in The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Because Tiana is a Disney princess who actually resonates with a modern society. It’s not just about falling in love in this film, Tiana has a dream to set up and run her own restaurant. She gets on with it and makes her dream happen on her own terms. This is a great story about setting goals and achieving them due to your own efforts. Believe in yourself like Tiana!
21. Abigail Breslin as Olive Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Because she dreams of being a pageant girl and even though she might not be what is portrayed in the media as perfect she still goes for it! She’s confident, super cute and hilarious too. She shows us that doing what we want and not caring what people think is the way forward. We all need to take a leaf out of Olive’s book.
22. Parminder Nagra as Jess Bhamra in Bend it like Beckham (2002)
Because she doesn’t conform to her cultural pressures and she does what she wants. She plays football and doesn’t simply do what’s expected of her. She also breaks those gendered stereotypes we so often see! Guess what? Women play football too! Duh!
23. Emma Stone as Olive in Easy A (2010)
Because she stands up to the bullies who are slut shaming her and actually uses it to benefit her! She also uses her position to help others. She’s clever, self-assured and funny. But we do also need to remember to make sure we put our own happiness first and not let our own reputation suffer due to helping others. Sometimes it’s important to be a bit selfish.
24. Melissa McCarthy as Susan Cooper in Spy (2015)
Because she has no confidence and puts herself down. She worships her boss and lets him walk all over her. Then she realises she’s worth more than that. So she does what she’s always wanted to do. Even though it seems terrifying to begin with she gets through it. She experiences ups and downs, but she’s brave and committed and never gives up. Let’s be like Susan Cooper!
25. Kristen Bell as Anna in Frozen (2013)
Because she loves her sister unconditionally and realises something isn’t quite right so she does something about it. Sure, she might be royalty but she doesn’t let that stop her from getting her shoes muddy (or should we say snowy). Go Anna! Remember, even if you’re a princess (which we all are) don’t let things get to your head, stay grounded.
26. Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side (2009)
Because she takes care of a disadvantaged youth who’s struggling in life. She provides him with the love and support he needs to succeed in what he’s good at. Teaching us to be more caring and utilise our advantaged positions; those more fortunate should always help those less fortunate in society.
27. Audrey Tautou as Amélie in Amélie (2001)
Because even though she doesn’t have much she devotes her time to helping others and doing acts of kindness in order to make other people happy. This is something that we all need to try and practice a bit more, no matter how big or small let’s act in a way which will make people happy. Although, remember to never neglect your own needs and desires in the process.
28. All the girls in the Pitch Perfect series
Because they’re all unique and fantastic in their own weird and wonderful way! They’re a real life representation of a young group of girls, which is refreshing to see in comparison to the ridiculous representations of girls we see in many other media outlets. They come together and boss a capella and in the process help each other through life’s challenges.
29. Auli’i Cravalho as Moana (2016)
Because firstly, it’s about time we see more diversity in animated film (well film in general needs more diversity – but I guess that’s a whole other topic). Young Moana bravely sets off on an ocean adventure to save her people and in doing so she realises that persistence and hope will let her accomplish what she needs to. Lesson learnt; be persistent and hopeful and you’ll meet your ambitions.
30. All the women in Suffragette (2015)
Because the story is such an important part of our history, it shows us why women have so many of the many rights and freedoms we have today, the vote being the most significant!
31. Audrey Tautou as Gabrielle Chanel in Coco before Chanel (2009)
Because she starts off in life as an orphan, showing that she works hard to better her future. She also doesn’t want what many other women of her time want. She want’s independence, she’s ambitious and she strives for her goals to be met. She’s a classic ‘started from the bottom now we here’ type of girl. You go (Glen) Coco!
32. Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in Grease (1978)
Because she goes from being Sandra Dee and ends up as Sandy. She realises that her sweet and innocent little girl persona might not be who she is anymore. So she tries to find herself, trying a new style and personality and realises who she really is! Also, she just looks insane in that catsuit and definitely has the moves to go with it!
33. Kelly Macdonald as Merida in Brave (2012)
Because she’s fiery (no, we don’t just mean her hair) and she knows what she wants, to be an individual and carve her own path in life. She gets herself into a bit of trouble though from being so strong-willed but instead of running away from her problems, she deals with it herself. What a boss.
34. Liesel Matthews as Sara in A Little Princess (1995)
Because she brings excitement and fun to the girls boarding school. She rebels against the mind-numbing activities the headmistress forces them to engage in and instead uses her imagination to create beautiful stories filling the young girls minds with hope and warmth. She knows that all girls are princesses no matter what. And even if life changes for the worse, Sara remains strong.
35. Amy Poehler as Joy in Inside Out (2015)
Because Joy tries to ensure that Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness don’t take over Riley’s brain during a challenging time! Joy knows that she’s what’s best for Riley but has to make sure there is a good balance of emotions, because that’s healthy. This shows us how we need to make sure the negative emotions don’t take over our minds, easier said than done, but worth trying!
36. Julie Andrews as Maria in The Sound of Music (1965)
Because she’s the mother figure the Von Trapp family needs and she gives the children more than they ever thought they’d have. Lots of kindness, understanding and fun. She was initially judged but then when the family realise how great she is, they go back on their initial judgments. Teaching us that we need to give people more time to shine and not quickly judge them.
37. Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Because she is stubborn, headstrong, brave and loyal. She proves she’s a fighter and she gets on with it. We like you Rey!
38. Aileen Quinn as Annie (1982)
Because she’s an orphan who is charming and positively changes the direction her life is going in. She’s also just super cute and hilarious.
39. Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie (2014)
Because this up to date version celebrates diversity! Yay!
40. Daveigh Chase as Lilo in Lilo Stitch (2002)
Because Lilo takes in an abandoned Stitch and befriends him. She teaches him how to behave and develops him emotionally. She teaches us that if someone comes along who seems a bit strange and a bit crazy at first (maybe a younger sibling) we should try and model good behaviour, showing them how to behave, instead of being mean to them just because they don’t know any better.
41. Ming-Na Wen as Mulan (1998)
Because she does something very selfless in order to protect her father and pretends to be a man so she can join the army. She is stubborn, strong and talented and she becomes one of China’s greatest heroines.
42. Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich (2000)
Because she’s unemployed and a single mother but is determined to get a job. She then becomes a legal assistant and in the process essentially takes down a gas and electric company. One word. Hero.
43. Shashi Godbole as Sridevi in English Vinglish (2012)
Because she is fed up of feeling excluded so she acts on it. She learns English but also learns other things along the way. Teaching us that if we are unhappy with something or we want something to change, we should act on it.
44. Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max (2015)
Because she’s determined to survive and return to her homeland and will not let anything get in her way. Showing us that during terrible times we need to stay brave and focussed if we want something.
45. Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray (2007)
Because she knows that things aren’t right and she wants them to change. She teaches people about integration and shows us if you’re in a position of influence, then you need to use that power to promote positivity.
46. Kalki Koechlin as Laila in Margarita With A Straw (2014)
Because this young woman with cerebral palsy shows everyone that her disability will not define her or stop her from doing what she wants. She embarks on an adventure and finds love and most importantly, herself.
47. Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw in the Sex and The City film series
Because she is a really good friend to her best friends. She is also really sophisticated, stylish and fun. She wears her heart on her sleeve and she isn’t afraid of getting hurt. She lives life to the full and she’s independent. She enjoys her own company just as much as being with her friends. Teaching us to enjoy ourselves and have friends because we enjoy them not because we need them.
48. Hilary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Because she teaches us that being tough isn’t just for men! Duh! It’s for us all, if you want to box, then box. Don’t let your gender define what you can or can’t do. She wants something and she gets it. She works hard and never gives up on her dreams. She says a big stuff you to the gendered stereotypes we constantly see and makes it her mission to achieve her goal!
49. Lizzy Caplan as Janis Ian in Mean Girls (2004)
Because she doesn’t conform to gendered stereotypes, she acts and dresses how she wants. She doesn’t admire the “Mean Girls” like everyone else at her school does and she actually tries to sabotage their cliquey and damaging behaviour. In turn, after everything going a bit crazy, it all ends up ok in the end. Showing us, we need to stand up to bullies!
50. All the women in Bridesmaids (2011)
Because they’re all just fabulous women who represent us all and our fabulous unique qualities. They also show us that nobody is perfect and we’ve all got our strengths and weaknesses and weird and wonderful ways! But as long as you’re doing you the best you can, then that’s all that matters. And the message of the film is that as women we all need to unite and raise each other up, not hate on each other because of jealousy.
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